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Transcript: How Not to Handle a Rape Investigation

Detectives investigating a Lynnwood, Washington, teenager’s rape in our latest investigation, An Unbelievable Story of Rape, concluded she hadn’t been assaulted based in part on “her answers and body language” during an interview with police. But as our investigation with The Marshall Project revealed, the police who confronted Marie made a number of mistakes in her case that would have grave consequences — for the 18-year-old in Washington and for several other women who lived hundreds of miles away.

On Thursday, December 17, at 12:30 pm ET, ProPublica and The Marshall Project hosted a Digg Dialog with retired San Diego Police Sgt. Joanne Archambault, who leads the nonprofit End Violence Against Women International, to discuss best practices for law enforcement investigating sex crimes.

Reporters T. Christian Miller (@txtianmiller) and Ken Armstrong (@bykenarmstrong) joined Archambault to discuss their story on Marie’s “unbelievable” rape, and the search for a serial rapist that spanned the Denver metro area three years later. Read the highlights below, or view a full transcript of the discussion on Digg.

I would be interested in knowing what made you get into this investigative piece and how you came to know about it. — Powp via Digg

Hi Valerie: I live in Seattle, so I was aware of the story, at least in its general outlines. I knew that a woman had reported being raped, had been charged with false reporting, and then had been vindicated when the rapist was caught. But that's about all I knew. I really wanted to hear her story, her voice, and to be able to reconstruct how the doubts in her case had set in and spread. So I reached out to her attorney to see if Marie might be willing to talk about this, as painful as it unquestionably had to be. From there it took dozens of calls with the attorney, spread over months (along with emails forwarded to Marie), before we arranged an interview. — Ken Armstrong, The Marshall Project

And I had been working on another story about Darren Sharper, where police had missed some opportunities. A source told me that I should look at the amazing police work done on Marie's case. So I started with the police work done in Colorado. Ken and I basically met in the middle while reporting. — T. Christian Miller, ProPublica

Anyone else think this story underlines a need for more women in law enforcement? Not to paint the situation as so black and white, but the story does show that the two cops that dismissed Marie's rape claim were men, to whom rape is presumably a foreign risk ... And the two cops that led a team to track down the serial rapist were women, who've likely dealt with at least the fear of rape in their own lives. — Ryan Summerlin via Digg

Unfortunately, female officers are often as tough, if not tougher on victims. There are a lot of reasons for it but in my experience, having supervised both male and female investigators, gender has nothing to do with ability. My best investigators were good listeners and they had the ability to empathize with victims. Women are often more judgmental, distancing themselves from victims by telling themselves they wouldn't do whatever it was that the victim did to create the situation. We also find this with our juries. — Joanne Archambault, EVAWI

I also want to note that two other police departments in Colorado — Aurora and Lakewood — were involved in the capture of O'Leary. Those investigative effort were helmed by male officers, and they played a vital role in the effort. — T. Christian Miller, ProPublica

One of the biggest ironies is that Officer Mason et al received very little punishment for what in effect was egregious and enduring harm to Marie. Yet these same actors galvanized to punish her for false reporting, a victimless crime. This dynamic plays out in other parts of our justice system and is the most disturbing part of this story to me. What do the reporters think about this aspect? And is it a coincidence that Marie was so vulnerable to this kind of injustice due to past trauma or her social class? — Powp via Digg

I would be most disturbed if I had the impression that the Lynnwood PD and Sgt. Mason had adopted a bunker mentality in response to this case and to our reporting on it. But the department ordered two reviews of the case - one internal, one external - and accepted the very tough language that came back in those reviews. Then the department incorporated reforms. Plus, Sgt. Mason and others in the police department talked to us about where they went wrong in this case - accepting blame and expressing not only deep remorse, but a real desire to make sure this never happens again. — Ken Armstrong, The Marshall Project 

I want to also say that I have worked with many stories and agencies who made tragic mistakes and NEVER accepted any responsibility. I was pleased that the Lynwood Chief requested and investigation and that Sgt. Mason personally met with the victim and apologized. Although what happened was tragic, most Departments have failed to accept responsibility, implement reforms or apologize in any way. — T. Christian Miller, ProPublica

This was fantastic work all around. I want to give special recognition to the analysts in this story, who are mentioned but not named. Please know that crime analysts behind the scenes are often passionately invested in these types of cases, and they can make crucial connections that might otherwise go overlooked. This series is a great example of that. — SGwinn via Digg

You are completely right. Some of the biggest breaks in this case were by analysts and criminologists (who, fwiw, were also mostly women). — T. Christian Miller, ProPublica

I agree. This story clearly demonstrates that regardless of what for example people believe will be accomplished by testing all kits for DNA, the only way an investigation is going to be resolved successfully is through good old fashioned police work. Reviewing hours of surveillance videos, communicating with other law enforcement agencies and utilizing the professionals who work in Crime Analysis are just a few of the efforts the many law enforcement professionals involved in this case engaged in.— Joanne Archambault, EVAWI

Have the reporters or detectives involved asked for cooperation military investigators about possible (perhaps even probable) assaults while the perpetrator was a) in the military, and b) deployed? — Marie Tessier via Digg

The Golden police did attempt to look into O'Leary's background in the military. They turned up an account of a woman who had defended herself outside a base in South Korea from an attemtped attack by O'Leary, but nothing came of it. — T. Christian Miller, ProPublica 

A very powerful piece of writing, difficult to read but worth it. My question: how do you approach interviewing someone like O'Leary? What is it like emotionally? What kind of preparation do you do? — Janet Lafler

Yes, he was sorry for what he had done. He was, in fact, very open about the attacks. He denied raping any other women than the six victims in his trial. But he did mention that there had been previous attempts. He did not want to talk about them. ... And to answer the question on the interview. We talked with him at the Sterling Correctional Facility in Colorado. We had read statements that he gave to the police, and made in court. And then we had read through a lot of his ramblings in his notebooks that were part of the public record. — T. Christian Miller, ProPublica

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